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UN Peacekeepers Freed, Journalist Killed in Congo

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VOA News - July 10, 2006

Congolese militia fighters released Saturday the five remaining Nepalese U.N. peacekeepers they have been holding since late May, U.N. officials have said. In other developments, gunmen killed a journalist who was a vocal critic of Congos government.

Nearly six weeks after they were seized during a gun battle in eastern Congo, five Nepalese U.N. peacekeepers were released Saturday by the militia group that had been holding them hostage.

As evening fell, U.N. officials said members of the peacekeeping mission and representatives from the local community had picked up the soldiers, and were making their way back to a base in the lawless Ituri district.

Two weeks ago, two of the group of seven initially seized were released by the gunmen, who had issued a range of demands, including thousands of dollars in cash and the release of militia fighters arrested by the government.

The hostage crisis has highlighted the violence and chaos in Congos east, as the vast African nation readies itself for elections later this month.

The July 30 polls should be the first free and fair election in over four decades, and are meant to draw a line under the last war, a 1998-2003 conflict that has killed some four-million people.

However, amongst other obstacles, the build-up to the poll has been marred by attacks on journalists.

Early Saturday, unidentified gunmen killed a Congolese journalist, deepening concerns about freedom of the press and how free and fair the polls really will be.

The shooting comes just a day after donors funding Congos peace process told the government to ensure that candidates running for posts in the post-war administration, and journalists covering the campaign, were protected.

It is hoped that this months poll will help provide the war-ravaged nation with a fresh start after decades of turmoil.


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